Do ‘Idol’ Contestants Want To Sing — Or Just Be Famous?

Contest's castoffs look past recording contracts to acting, hosting, modeling gigs.

Almost every eliminated “American Idol” contestant’s post-show plans have something in common, and it’s not just singing.

“I’m going to continue singing and hopefully get into TV and movies and stuff like that,” Lisa Tucker said a few weeks ago. “I just want to try everything out.”

“I would love to do modeling, Pantene Pro-V commercials, anything in the entertainment industry would be awesome,” semifinalist Heather Cox said. “I would love to host. That’d be cool.”

“I would absolutely love to do things like [act or host],” Mandisa said. “I’ve had several things come my way, people asking me to do things like that, and it’s such an honor.”

Maybe they had grandiose dreams of building an all-encompassing J. Lo or Diddy brand before ever auditioning for Simon, Randy and Paula, or maybe the show’s massive popularity has inflated their egos. Either way there’s no arguing “Idol” is spitting out not just wannabe singers, but aspiring actors, hosts and models too.

“It’s interesting what happens when we come in here,” Mandisa said. “We’re not expecting to do these things, but opportunities start being presented to us, and it’s things that we realize that we’re interested in.”

Since “Idol” launched five seasons ago, the show has seen former contestants go on to movies big (Jennifer Hudson has a major role in the upcoming film “Dreamgirls”) and small (Jim Verraros starred in the indie comedy “Eating Out”); Broadway musicals (Diana DeGarmo in “Hairspray,” Frenchie in “Rent”); TV shows (Constantine Maroulis has signed on for a pilot for ABC); hosting (Kimberly Caldwell for TV Guide Channel); modeling; and speaking tours.

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Some are continuing with music as well, but many have abandoned singing careers for other lines of work, which begs the question: Do contestants go on “American Idol” because they want to sing or because they want to be famous? And every time an eliminated contestant blatantly makes him or herself available for anything entertainment, is it hurting the competition’s credibility?

“No,” answered Nigel Lythgoe, the show’s co-executive producer. “I think every singer wants to be an actor and every actor wants to sing. The minute you put yourself in front of a camera you’re an entertainer, and then you want to do everything an entertainer does and probably write your life story. … That’s what happens in our business.”

Lythgoe believes it’s more about society as a whole than his show, which has become a worldwide phenomenon.

“Everybody in the world right now wants to be a celebrity, and it’s available to us online now with cameras and blogs and Web sites,” he said. “For some reason everyone wants it. And if they get it, they’re gonna be shocked at what it actually brings, which is such an imposition on your entire life.”

Still, it would be foolish to think the “Idol” machine doesn’t contribute to its stars wanting to be bigger stars. The show hosts red-carpet events for them, makes them act in commercials and schedules weekly photo shoots for them. For the first season’s winner, Kelly Clarkson, and runner-up Justin Guarini, “Idol” even handed them a movie.

It’s a singing competition, but it’s become so popular that the attitude coming out of it isn’t “I want to put out a record” but “I want to stay famous.”

“I really want to be able to take advantage of the exposure that I’ve gotten,” Kinnik Sky said after she was eliminated. “I was working as an actor before, so I really want to get more into television and film and just explore those opportunities a lot more.”

Semifinalist Brenna Gethers, one of the biggest personalities “Idol” has seen, was looking for other work the day she was cut from the show and had no qualms about it.

“I think ‘Idol’ is a great platform for anyone,” she said. “Of course it’s ‘American Idol’ and it’s a singing competition, but anyone who thinks that it’s purely and merely a singing competition has another thing coming. … [We're] in millions of homes. Why not take full advantage of it and capitalize on it? This is America, home of capitalization.”

It’s Gethers’ belief that former “Idol” contestants’ branching out is just a sign of a return to a forgotten past.

“In old Hollywood, people were able to dance, sing and act equally well,” Gethers said. “Now if you’re an actor, don’t even try to sing, don’t try to dance. That’s why all these reality shows are coming out great because they’re kind of stepping over the line. … And for me, I’m like the Renaissance woman: I’m going to sing, I’m going act, I’m going to dance, I’m going to do it all.”

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